A Modest Proposal;
On the Proper Care and Feeding of a Viable Renaissance Faire

"Bugger the Laws"

Cassiel C. MacAvity

        "There are reasons why Laws exist, but through misunderstanding, misapplication, or basic malevolent stupidity, those Laws sometimes must be, or seem to be, broken."

Case History------------------------------------------------

        There is a story of many years back of a Buddhist monk of a monastery in Kyoto, Japan. As I recall the story, the monastery was a medium sized one, where everyone knew everyone, on one hand, but on the other hand, the area of the temple grounds was such that one could easily go wandering off down a corridor and not meet a soul.

        Of the monks, they were generally stable, solid, following the precepts, obeying the abbot, sitting when called for, working in and around the monastery when called for, going in for their weekly or daily interviews with the abbot, and so forth.

        There was one monk in that monastery, who was one of the company, definitely well known, but apparently not as a possible problem, or more Buddhist than thou, or anything else like that. And one day he was tending a garden out by an outer wall, he had a ladder with him to help with the trees, he put the ladder up against the wall and he hopped over the wall.

        Out on the other side of the wall, he then made his way off to the local entertainment district, and made a beeline for one or more of the local whorehouses. Rather than criticize the locals for what they shouldn't be doing, the monk himself called for sake, got roaring sloppy drunk, took several of the prostitutes off to their rooms for the night, for the hour, for the half hour, kept drinking, had interesting things to say about monks in general, and particularly about the abbot of the monastery he'd just bolted from, and finally passed out stone cold in a corner.

        The next day, he woke up with an all out splitting head hangover, got poured through various methods of revivification, helped back into his robes, and waved off as he went staggering off down the street towards the next place he could go plowing into, where he more or less did the same thing, picked a fight or two this time, screamed at the constables, and more or less made it absolutely clear that monks were one thing and he was entirely another.

        The second morning, it was indeed the constables who dug him out of his latest resting place after That night before, poured him through more revivification procedures, hung onto him long enough to make certain that he was absolutely and thoroughly sober, or at least stable, and personally escorted him Back to the monastery and through the front gates, which they slammed shut behind him as the gatekeeper scurried off to tell of the return.

        Waves of monks poured out of the hallways and cells to tear the returnee to shreds, commenting on his stained robes, his obvious hangover, what they had heard even while remaining in the monastery, how he had defiled himself and shamed the monastery, and at that point, in walked the abbot.

        As the rest of the monks quieted down to let their master have his turn, the abbot walked up to the miscreant and looked him up and down. In a loud voice, the abbot commented on what the monk had been up to, on how everyone knew what he'd done, because everywhere the monk had turned up, for everything the monk had done, the monastery had been billed. And then, in the vernacular of that particular sect, the abbot then slapped him on the back and announced "That's my boy!", adding that he'd been wondering who his successor had been going to be, and that he was pleased to confirm that it was indeed the returnee who would be the next abbot.

       

        There is another story from many years back, somewhere in rural Japan, this time. Of all the trails crisscrossing the landscape, in a number of instances, even if there was no town for miles, a lot of those trails had to meet at the same places because sometimes the local rivers were such that there were only those few places to cross them.

        In such a case, one morning a couple of monks were on their way from one back-country monastery to another, and were on one of those trails approaching the nearest ford. One of the monks was older and more experienced than the other, but then the younger monk was truly dedicated to his calling, certain that in the precepts and the teachings of his predecessors lay the way to enlightenment.

        When they got to the ford, they found a geisha pacing back and forth, carrying a bag of belongings. The geisha was in traditional garb, ankle length kimono, the works, including elevated slippers, and even with the multilayered complexity, could get around in it all quite well. Of the ford, on the other hand, while the river was easy and very slow at that point, it was still fifty feet wide and a foot and a half to two feet deep. The geisha clearly was not going to just cross that river.

        When the monks arrived at the ford, the geisha turned and asked if one of them could possibly help her in getting across by giving her a ride on his back. The elder monk announced that it would be no problem, and in fact, with his walking stick, everything would be particularly stable. The geisha thanked both him and the other monk, held her belongings over her head with one hand as she climbed onto his back with the help of the other, and off they went across the river, the older monk stabilizing himself with his walking stick, and the younger monk trailing along behind him and the geisha.

        At the other side of the ford, and a comfortable distance from the edge of the water, the older monk stopped so that the geisha could climb off his back. When she had done so, the geisha profusely thanked both monks again and as she started off on the trail she needed to get to her destination, the monks started off on the completely different trail they needed to get to their destination.

        The day continued on and the monks climbed higher and higher as the trail they were on continued through that particular forest. They stopped to eat for a bit, but, still having a long way to the next monastery, they soon kept going. As the afternoon passed, the trail continued, and the monks kept walking. Finally, late in the afternoon, as it was getting towards sunset, the younger monk blurted out a series of observations.

        He and his associate, he observed, were monks, being students on the path of the Buddha, being students on the path of the solitary life, concentrating only on the path to enlightenment, and ignoring or avoiding anything and everything that might serve as a distraction. A particular such distraction for them was, of course, women, and just a few hours ago, they had not only met up with a woman at the ford, but a geisha, a professional entertainer, and not only had the elder monk not avoided her, but he had himself allowed her to climb on his back so he could carry her across the river! Given what they had been taught and the way that they followed, How could the older monk justify what he had done??!!

        The older monk observed that as he himself had put the geisha down hours earlier, why was it that the younger monk was still carrying her?

       

        For quite a number of years, the historic recreational Scots Clan Iain Abrach has been working at many of the main Northern California renaissance faires and Scottish games. Renaissance faires tend to follow a standard scenario of a backcountry England village having a festival, many times with the King, if Henry VIII, or Queen, if England's Elizabeth I, and court in attendance, visiting the local lord. The excuse given for non English in attendance is usually historically based, and in the case of Iain Abrach, is usually a combination of a trading expedition, hiring out as mercenaries, and (shhh!) spying on the English.

        Very often, the first gig of the day is the charging of the gate. Various reasons are given for this, two main ones being that the Scots need to charge the gate as, being foreigners to the land, we all carry Visas, and, also, being as gold is, well, gold, and heavy as, well, gold, its so much easier to charge than pay cash.

        The other reason that is given theatrically ignores that we're already there on site and has us arriving at the gates, brandishing weapons, first thing in the morning as we just happen to be arriving at the village, the festival, whatever. The town guard, sometimes all one of him, rushes out to stop the invading force of anywhere from fifteen to seventy, an easy one hundred and fifty one weekend, inform it that it has no business here, and that it will leave.

        Iain, the chieftain, steps forward, waving a proclamation. He informs the guard that as the proclamation states that the Scots have indeed been invited by the (insert highest ranking noble here), the guard has committed treason and shall be executed on the spot. The command is then given to slaughter all and sundry, sometimes worded as "Swords to the flanks. Women to the front, they Are only English." At that point the head of the local town council arrives, loudly demands to know what's going on here, and quickly recognizes Iain as an old associate from a cattle theft-- -er, Investment Opportunity. The council head then informs the guard that, yes, the Scots are indeed invited guests, welcomes all the newcomers through the gates and into the faire---er, village, and begins the first parade of the day.

        Most of the time this works quite smoothly, and, in fact, the parade of an estimated one hundred fifty scots at the one and only Concannon Renaissance Faire occurred one afternoon when Iain decided that things were slow and that a parade would be a good thing to have, and I'm sure it was just a coincidence that the local Henry VIII evidently had immediately previously not quite shown sufficient awareness of a warlord with a much larger army.

        One year at the Faire Oaks Faire, things didn't go quite so smoothly. The problem wasn't with the English; The council members and town guard were in place with schedules, and in fact, as many of them had been doing the same gig with Iain for years, their end would be, as it were, a walk in the park.

        The rest of us, Clan MacKay, from Sacramento, and Iain Abrach, were out beyond a couple of fence corners, away from the parking lot, getting our order of battle arranged. Up came a collection of the philosophy of "We wear flannel, that makes us Scots, whatd'ya mean we're actors, what's History??!!", who announced that they were present to help with the attack on the gate. Just the late 20th century hiking boots alone was a major giveaway that they were a foretaste of the aftereffects of the back-to- back releases of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" and Liam Neeson's "The Bridges of Edinburgh County". As I recall, they also announced that they had also brought their standard, which was a thoroughly twisted and warped stripling, atop of which was a thoroughly dirt caked and rust pitted example of what I was later told was a trucker's brace anchor.

        In such a case, we did realize that education is always the ready answer, since it really is not a newbies' fault if he, or they, clearly have no idea what is the proper appearance, or what is going on.

        They did have a piper with them, and we looked at the piper, decided that where one piper was good, two was clearly better, and Iain informed them that their company could line up behind the MacKays, and the piper would join in beside our piper, and the two pipers would together play "Scotland the Brave". There was a problem. The new piper didn't know "Scotland the Brave". Okay . . The two of them would play "Amazing Grace". The new guy with the bagpipes didn't know "Amazing Grace". We looked around at the gaggle of newbies that were still standing around the head of our formed up column of Scots, looked at the guy in the bedsheet carrying the bagpipes around, and Iain, or somebody else standing there, asked what songs the kid Could play. As I recall, the answer was, and I quote; "Oh, I just play my own stuff."

        At that point, if it wasn't Iain, it again was someone right there who announced that there would be a new plan of battle. In this, the newbies would be an integral part as the English were to be thrown off balance by the Scots attacking in a pincer movement! Our column would lull them into a false sense of security by moving in the way we always did. The newbies, in turn, With their piper, would move around to the back entrance, hurry now, and when the signal was given, move in from there. The newbies took off, away from the main gate, and off we went, Towards the main gate, a small army of Scots marching through the English countryside, etc., etc.

        The attack of the gate was a rousing success, as it usually was, and we marched in with the English, as we usually did, and I think it was about five minutes later that the newbies quietly wandered in through the performer's entrance and the faire was off to a start.

Analysis----------------------------------------------------

        In many situations, there are a set number of rules which sometimes got developed through trial and error, and sometimes actually got developed through thinking through what needs to be done. Also in many situations, there are a number of rules of thumb for getting things done, two such being Occam's Razor, where the simplest explanation covering all the details is the most likely, and KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid.

        In Iain Abrach, Lady MacIain is very fond of a rule which I think quite good, especially when considered from her point of view. It concerns props and clan equipment, and is a telling reflection upon groups that think that showing up in the middle of nowhere to overnight build the Versailles palace reflects well upon them. In short; "If I can't pick it up by myself, we ain't using it!"

        There is a reason these rules get developed, and followed, and that reason is They Work. Some examples;

>>> I didn't say *that*.

        When at a faire, and you see a sign that an item is becoming, in a manner of speaking, explosively warm, DO NOT run towards the nearest Faire official while screaming at the top of your lungs **!!!!!< FIRE >!!!!!!** Instead, calmly, at least in appearance, speedily---preferably without running---make your way to the nearest person with a radio or other means of local faire communication and inform the person quietly, while similarly having no compulsions against interrupting the no doubt fascinating discussion of last week's rollerball game.

        If you do select the former of the two choices, you will highly annoy the security personnel who now have to deal with the horde of panicking customers who have just been given licence to panic. You will also have highly annoyed the actors at the faire who now have to worry about themselves, their environmental areas And their props, as all and sundry now stand the chance of getting run over by the aforementioned panicking horde. Especially actors who play Scots, as we tend to get parked in the back of the faire area, making us the Last place to look for an exit, and besides which, Our weapons Aren't props . . . . Have you ever seen a rather sloshed, stampeding tourist head INTO a live cooking area, complete with active conflagration? It is Not a pretty sight.

>>> If I don't see it, it doesn't exist.

        One general rule I have yet to see broken justifiably at any faire---with one exception---is; If it ain't period, cover it in burlap. This has included entire thirty or so foot high city park playground assemblages which had *no* problem disappearing completely behind entire walls of burlap. The one exception is water fountains, which can otherwise get messy.

        A good example of this is the '96 Renaissance Entertainment Corporation (REC) mall in Novato at the site that the Novato RenFaire used to be. Among the hordes of irreversibly dispirited clones---Yes, I've talked to some---wearing vaguely periodish costumes while hawking REC baseball caps could be found a blatantly obvious and visibly placed Automatic Teller Machine without a trace of burlap for several feet. This, of course, was perfectly normal, as the event it was seen at is merely a rather dusty, overpriced, mall, with multiple bars, get your next Bud here. Of course *it* needs an excruciatingly easy to spot ATM.

        A Renaissance faire, on the other hand, is a really big stage, but it Is a Stage. If you're not backstage, i.e.. out of sight of someone who paid to get in, then you are On stage. Backstage, as long as you're not screaming about it, you can discuss the difficulties your 32 bit CP/M is having with the latest edition of Visual Cobol. When Onstage, on the customer side of the burlap, I don't think the English were even up on the abacus, and calculus wasn't invented until the 1600s, so whether or not you successfully got Voyager on the VCR is a thoroughly moot point.

        Thus when the Scots' guild at the Novato faire's last appearance in '94 or '95 or so was having lunch one day in their period staged camp area---thus doubly reenforcing the fact of there being a theatrical situation which recreated a hypothetical event in the 1500s---it was considered somewhat interesting when a female voice called out in clear Californian from the middle of the sea of plaid, "Yo, dude! Are there any more olives?"

>>> Bugger the Laws.

        However . . . . . . Situations Do arise where the current rules just don't fit the situation, where the only working rule that gets anywhere is "Bugger the Laws!"

        In the case of a, uh, highly advanced rapid chemical reaction, as noted, the ideal is for only the faire personnel to find out about it. I do remember one year at the Novato Faire which had one particularly spectacular, publicly viewed, grease fire, but it was dealt with and out even before the nearest security personnel could even turn around. Needless to say, the booth owner and his fire extinguisher were not ones to yell, at least not the fire extinguisher.

        On the other hand, or hande, iff you want to fake being period, should you see a branch decide to finish dying, a badly placed cable finally pull out an insufficiently reenforced beam, or something of the sort, "Bugger the Laws" clearly can call for pointing towards the one about to join his or her maker and Shrieking in as clear and fast 20th century American as possible, "HEADS UP, LOOK OUT FOR THAT . . . incoming object." In such a situation, such an action is not only recommended, staging and crowd control be damned, but doing such can help prevent a need for more crowd control as the ambulance comes in, and a need for more bean counters as the lawyers come in.

        Also in the same type of situation, I have seen a box covering up a fire hydrant surrounded by a square of bumper poles, a box of burlap hiding a row of telephones, I have heard suggestions for a parade of boom boxes wrapped in burlap, but in the cases that I have also seen of an ambulance rolling onto the site, i.e. onstage in the 1500s, no, there was no attempt to add burlap to the ambulance as the clear need for its presence threw a rather large wrench---also non period, but it's a citeable emergency--- into the idea of "Certain things don't exist here."

>>> "Temujin? What do Buddhist monks have to do with RenFaires?"

        Now comes the subtle part.

        Talking about hot things that go "Whoosh" is easy. Talking about burlap is easy. Talking about the embarrassingly non- period is fairly easy, as most of them you did, or thought of doing, a few years back. But the point of this essay is that there are situations which make you look at the Laws, Deepen your understanding of the Laws, and reenforce the Laws, because if you don't break one or more Laws as a consequence of the situation, you break the society and situation which they support.

        I list the stories of the monks because they are two that came easily to mind and serve as good examples.

        Both cases involve the idea that the proper monk is austere, aloof, uninvolved, because the Buddhist way of enlightenment requires that the monk completely disappear so that he can never be distracted from that study.

        Both cases involve looking at the outside of a behavior and forgetting that there is a reason for that behavior, that there is a background against which that behavior is chosen.

        Both cases also involve destroying that contemplation of the small, close idea so that renewed awareness of the whole can occur.

        Anyone can withdraw, anyone can say that something must or must not be done, but it is in the special situations that one who is aware will see that the rules About something are not that thing in itself. It is a paradox, but becoming attached to detachment is to become attached, not detached.

        In the case of the escaping monk, the paradox is in that it was the other monks who had formed attachments, in their case, being the perfect monks, doing the perfect sitting, doing the perfect sweeping, wearing the perfect robes, and it was the one who threw out his attachments and hopped the wall who was truly detached.

        In the case of the two monks, it was the younger monk who had formed the attachments, and could have later been held up as a shining example of the unwavering concentration of the . . . . and then someone would have pointed out that he was so busy doing the concentration that he couldn't say what he was concentrating on. It was the older monk who noticed that something did need to be done, did it, and simply moved on to the next task at hand, being a monk who was continuing on to the next temple.

        In the case of Iain Abrach and the charge of the gate, we were faced with several people so caught up in having the trappings of what they thought were the portrayal of Scots, and parading around with their trappings, that they couldn't do the job. Normally, the thing to do is to include the newbies, show them by example how things are done, show them by example what to do. But with "This IS our standard"---so much unlike any others--- and, this IS how I play my pipes---so much unlike any others--- rather than face the rigid, "we Must do this *This* way" method that would call so much attention to "this is Not how it is done", the sudden decision was "Bugger the Laws", send the newbies on a snipe hunt, and continue on with the simple, elegant, flexible, and successful way of action.

        Doing this can be difficult, but it happens.

Summary-----------------------------------------------------

        While rules do exist, and usually exist because of a very good reason for following them, there are situations where the rules don't quite match, or, even if they do, the result that will occur from following the rules is one which the rules were intended to prevent. In such situations, the one remaining Law that can be followed is "Bugger the Laws."


Home/Index             A Modest Proposal;              


© 1996 Cassiel C. MacAvity